The Lost Mansion: a history massacred

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When should one bulldoze a piece of history?

A vexing question: for who does time belong to?  If you are the custodian of a building which dates back to the fourteenth century,  then, though you own the bricks and mortar, surely temporal evidence is an entirely separate commodity, accorded to you in trust on behalf of humankind?

The listing process in Britain is to guard that evidence of time. Whilst Parliament began thinking about protecting history in 1882 with an Ancient Monuments Protection Act, it was not until after the devastating bombing raids of World War II that the British sat up and began to take notice of how valuable time’s trails really are.

In 1947, an army of 300 members of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings trooped out to visit every scrap of temporal evidence and accord it a grade.

Managed by English Heritage, buildings are separated into different grades: Grade I – like Hampton Court  Palace – which are of national and international importance; Grade II*, which are of regional importance, and Grade II, which are locally important good examples of a particular period of style.

But it was too late, way too late for Easthampstead Park.

As was I. I have lived in this town all my life, and never realised that just a short stroll away was a breathtaking old house. This is because it is out of town, surrounded by trees, and few of us have call to turn down the long monumental tree-lined drive which leads to its grand facade.

The grand old house is designed to awe, and awe it does.

Yet it takes us, temporally, back to just 1860, and a dastardly Marquis who stopped the temporal trail dead in its tracks to build this house.

On paper, the trail leads back much, much further, to 1320, when Edward II acquired it and rebuilt it as a house around a courtyard.

Documents investigated by English Heritage reveal that it was mentioned in 1365 as a park deep in Windsor Forest, surrounded by palings (a fence with pointy arrow tops). Famous maps of the day show it clearly sitting there in 1574 and 1607.

A royal hunting lodge a stone’s throw from Windsor, a house on a square of land surrounded by a defensive moat, the Plantaganet kings used it, issuing orders from its walls. It was one of Richard III’s favourite haunts.

Here, it is rumoured, Catherine of Aragon fled when Henry began to look elsewhere. A retreat in the forest far from the politics of court, this wise woman knew her husband well.

Charles I disparked the lodge and gave it to diplomat William Trambull in 1628, and from then on the Trambulls entertained the great and good there: Alexander Pope was a regular visitor.

I suppose, from what I know of old lodges with feet in the 1300s, it must have been dark, and damp, and draughty, and one can only take so much of living in such conditions. I well remember the Hampton Court residents, the dwellers in the ancient grace and favour apartments, complaining of just such conditions.

So the Fourth Marquis of Downshire, in 1860, knocked the whole bally lot down.

He built a very nice house. I like it. But it infuriates me: because thanks to that Marquis’s idea of improvement I shall never stand in the room in which Catherine of Aragon stood , or sit in a mediaeval hall, just a short walk from my front door, where Edward II or Richard III consulted their advisors and issued orders to control the realm.

The moment they invent Time Travel, I fully expect English Heritage to act retrospectively and rectify the whole sorry matter.

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37 thoughts on “The Lost Mansion: a history massacred

    1. And THAT, Roger, is what comes of returning home worse for the wear after the Christmas party and getting up early to write a blog the next day. Charles I gifted the house in 1628. *sigh*

      1. When you’re rested up, Kate . . . a re-read of the post might find a few more minor glitches.

        E.g., a sentence with a beginning, but no end: “1947 saw an act which . . .”

      2. But the magic you weave in that short hour is nothing short of miraculous! With an occasional typo tossed into the mix . . . easily skimmed over. 😀

  1. A wonderful story brought to a maddening state when we find that the historic house has been smashed due to the whims of a dastardly Marquis.

    In a previous life, I restored an old large brick home that had been built in 1808 through 1816. It was 3 courses of brick thick and the mortar was horse hair mortar and it needed a lot of work as it had been occupied by tenants for 50 years and they only lived in 3 of the 12 rooms.

    I also found old documents in the attic under the floorboards that was the history of the family that had received the deed under the Northwest Territory Act of 1787. Most of the documents were of a family nature, but, there were quite a few that were exchanges between a former State Governor and family patriarch and his political plant. The political plant would attend the meetings of the opposite party and report back the goings on the the Governor. Very entertaining and I seem to recall that it concerned the Presidential race of 1840 involving Martin Van Buren, Henry Clay and Willam Henry Harrison.

    Given this does not measure up to the extensive history of Mother England, but, it certainly points out the need of historical protection of our heritage.

    I am first on board when we get Time Travel, such fun.

      1. I did turn over most of them to the local Historical Society. The personal ones I just kept and they stayed with the house and with the practice marriage lady,

  2. I so agree with you Kate. I was trying to attach a link to show you our own devastation. One of our County Supervisors tore down one of our oldest homes and it’s a travesty. Of course, ours was handmade and mud with hand hewn rafters rather than the elegant home of the Marquis but history nonetheless.

    1. Heartbreaking, Tammy. The pictures of that old house you showed us recently on your blog were so inspiring. I wonder if this one was similar? Whatever the area of the world, the value of holding onto the roots of the place are immeasurable.

  3. I just love how you know all this interesting history! It is a bit sad knowing that all that physical history is gone, but as long as there are people like you who can tell the story it will never be lost.

  4. Time travel would be fascinating — providing we could somehow do it as observers, without actually being there. Our presence would change history, with all sorts of unpredictable consequences. Probably not a good thing. Still, if you timed it just right, you might be able to save that old house …

  5. I felt the same way when I visited the ancestral property of Lady Jane Grey. They cut all the trees off, and they grew back in these weird, stunted configurations, and the house is a ruin.

    It’s always hard, at the time, to know what to save and what to destroy. MTM struggles with convincing people that contemporary buildings will have value someday, but the newer it is now, the less people care about tearing it down. Of all the things he’s done in his job, his fight to save this building leaves me most proud:

    http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20080122/PC05/301229939

    1. Fantastic: if anyone can convince people, it’s MTM. His passion for architecture is evident and I will never forget the series he wrote for both of us. There are some amazing buildings here which do achieve listed status, as long as they are more than 30 years old – this is one of my favourite: the Radar training station at Blackpool, overseen by Eric Morris Hart…http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/content/images/Battlefields-military/__upload__img_200__Radar_training_station_20090212103359.jpg

    1. If they are they are buried in local records and will take some rooting out, Steven. However I have a vested interest in this particular house, which I shall explain at a later date: so I may go that bit further to root out any drawings I can find. I shall keep you posted!

  6. It is a shame what has been lost to history. I’ve been on some historic walks in various cities. They were great fun. The guides were knowledgeable and gave me a greater sense of place. That works when these sites become public treasures. But, when left to the whimsy of a private citizen, their fate is uncertain.

    1. And there’s the rub, Judy. So often I am infuriated because properties which should be heritage sites are privately owned and made inaccessible to ordinary people. A knowledgable guide can uncover the trails of time so well.

  7. It is disappointing that we are nearing the end of the world . . . without having benefitted from the conquest of time.

    A time machine is so much better than a horse:

    “A time machine. A time machine. My kingdom for a time machine.”

  8. I am so saddened when a beautiful piece of architecture and history is obliterated, but it seems overall, English Heritage has done a bang-up job of saving the past. Here in Hawaii, the past was largely obliterated, but there’s a push to reconstruct some of what was lost, and amazing work has been done. Our Iolani Palace is a great example. I can go there and imagine King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani descending the curved koa-wood staircase or sitting regally in the throne room, or listening to music in the blue room. And to think, in the 1950s, all the lovely moldings were plastered over and beautiful period furniture dumped when the place was made into an office building for the new legislature.

  9. It’s always hard for me to understand how history can be so poorly honored. I respect those who work hard to make certain that landmarks and historical sites are preserved. It is tremendously disturbing to think of what has already been destroyed. I’m all for TIme Travel…hope it happens soon, though. I’m not getting any younger–yet! 🙂

  10. I’ve wondered what stopped nations from demanding recompense from countries that bombed another nation’s monuments. We decry the loss, yet find the rattle of gold strong enough to justify our decision to change our own history. Hmmm…

    1. I agree totally, Amy. For every action there are consequences and clinically speaking, each should be redressed. In the face of all the atrocities of the time, though, I wonder if men just had to prioritise. Germany was broken in 1945.
      And of course, we,too, bombed our fair share of priceless pieces of heritage. Look at Dresden. War – all violent conflict – is littered with pointless loss.

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